Have you ever looked at a big, honkin’ blackhead smack in the middle of your face and felt the urge to get rid of it immediately?
There’s no shortage of advice on dealing with gunked-up pores—more on this later!—but there’s one thing you should never do, says board-certified dermatologist S. Manjula Jegasothy, MD, the CEO and founder of Miami Skin Institute.
“I’d never use something sharp, and that includes a fingernail,” says Dr. Jegasothy, who goes by Dr. J. “That’s pretty much the number-one error that everybody makes, so that’s the reason we tell people not to do it themselves.” Ah, that explains all of the do-not-pop-your-zits advice you’ve been reading (and maybe ignoring) for your entire life.
“When people who are not trained properly try to unclog a pore, they inadvertently use their nail rather than the pads of their fingertips.”
“When people who are not trained properly try to unclog a pore, they inadvertently use their nail rather than the pads of their fingertips,” Dr. J says. But poking at your pores with a sharp object—adorably manicured or otherwise—can tear your skin, which leads to a laundry list of problems. It can cause poor long-term healing, possible bacterial infection, and post-inflammatory pigmentation (otherwise known as acne scarring), she says.
So, then: How do Dr. J and other skin pros get sebum buildup out of pores? “We use non-sharp, soft instruments,” she says. Those tools allow them to gently push debris through the pore’s opening instead of perforating the skin.
It’s best to leave this work to the professionals, but if you must go acne-scavenging, here’s a handy guide to doing extractions at home. And Dr. J has some expert advice for picking your zits the “right” way to minimize any damage:
1. Make sure you do it when your face is warm, ideally after a warm shower. This is when your pores will be the most pliable, making extraction easier.
2. Scrub your hands and fingernails with an antibacterial cleanser to make sure everything stays squeaky clean.
3. Wrap a very soft tissue or gauze around your fingertips, creating a barrier between your skin and your nails.
4. Using a soft, circular motion, push all around the clogged pore until the debris comes into the middle. Then, gently push it up through the pore. If you experience any pain at all, you’re pushing too hard.
If you are disciplined enough to step away from the magnifying mirror and put your popping days behind you, Dr. J suggests putting a 2 percent salicylic acid solution on the blemish for 10 minutes, which will help dissolve the debris without the prodding process.
RIP, sharp-fingered extractions. You will be missed (especially if you have a touch of OCD—and who doesn’t?)—but your long-term effects won’t be.